Washington point guard Tony Wroten walked off the court in anguish Thursday afternoon, his head buried in his hands and his eyes welling with tears.
Oregon State fouled Wroten twice in the final 20 seconds of its Pac-12 quarterfinal against Washington, giving the freshman four chances to erase a one-point Beavers lead. Wroten missed two free throws with 18.3 seconds to go and two more with just 8.7 ticks left in the game, enabling ninth-seeded Oregon State to escape with a surprising 86-84 victory over the top-seeded Huskies.
The botched free throws from Wroten had to be galling for Washington because of the significance of Thursday's game. The two-time defending Pac-12 tournament champs entered this year's event knowing they needed at least a win or two to feel secure that they will hear their name called during Sunday's NCAA tournament selection show.
Although Washington (21-10, 14-4) won the outright Pac-12 regular-season title last week, the weakness of the league this season means that may not be enough to outweigh the Huskies' nonconference failures in the eyes of the selection committee. Washington failed to beat a single RPI Top 100 team out of conference and also lost at Nevada and at home to South Dakota State.
If Washington misses the NCAA tournament, it would be an embarrassing moment for Pac-12 basketball. No power conference regular-season champion has failed to make the NCAA tournament since 1986 when Texas, Texas A&M and TCU shared the Southwest Conference title but missed the field of 64 when Texas Tech won the league tournament.
Even though Wroten will undoubtedly receive most of the criticism if Washington doesn't make the NCAA tournament, he is not the only one to blame for Thursday's loss.
Washington shot a miserable 12 of 26 as a team from the foul line and played a wretched defensive first half, enabling Oregon State to take a 46-33 lead at halftime. It was Wroten who led the Huskies back, scoring 19 of his game-high 29 points in the second half to help Washington build an eight-point advantage in the final nine minutes.
Outside shooting in general and free-throw shooting in particular has been a weakness for Wroten during an otherwise spectacular freshman season. He has shot 57.5 percent from the foul line and 18.5 percent from behind the arc, flaws that are a product of him not having to rely on his outside shooting in high school because his first step to the basket and ability to finish at the rim is so good.
Washington's free-throw woes were so bad by the end of the game that the Huskies failed to even miss one the right way. When Terrence Ross gave possession back to Oregon State with two seconds to go by throwing the ball hard off the glass instead of having his intentional miss draw iron, that essentially sealed the Huskies fate.
Seconds later, Wroten walked off the court fighting off tears. And Washington began a stomach-turning 72-hour wait to find out if its name will be called.
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